SRI LANKA – Overview
Bilaterality characterizes the most fruitful cultural diplomacy projects, and Battery Dance Company’s relationship with Sri Lanka, beginning with its visit to Colombo in 1994, has since flourished into a profoundly symbiotic exchange.
While U.S. and Sri Lankan government funding undoubtedly played an important role in fueling these exchanges, it has been the personal relationships with Sri Lankan dancers, drummers and dance teachers that accounts for the momentum of the projects.
By following the projects from 1994 – 2006 described in this toolkit, you may gain some insights into the ways and means of initiating and nurturing artistic collaborations with cultures that, on first glance, bear no relationship to one another.
Note: Even though BDC has not had the opportunity to work in Sri Lanka since 2006, we have seen the relationship with Upeka and her family continue in unexpected and exciting ways. For example, Upeka’s niece Heshma, who is now the primary choreographer of the Chitrasena Dance Company, came to New York on an Eisenhower Fellowship in September, 2012, and interviewed Jonathan Hollander to gain from his insights on the future of dance in Sri Lanka. Heshma was a youngster when she first was exposed to Western modern dance at Battery Dance Company’s performance in Colombo. Now she is a prize-winning choreographer whose accomplishments were celebrated in a recent Joyce Theater season in New York accompanied by stellar reviews and a Bessie Award.
Battery Dance returned to Sri Lanka, ten years after its last engagement, in order to collaborate with several of the nation’s leading cultural institutions. Battery endeavored to break down barriers that exist among the dance community, create opportunities for interaction with dance students and teachers as well as Sri Lankan choreographers and musicians, and share skills in the areas of arts management, lighting and theater production, and conflict resolution.
Communications can be tricky when dealing with different working terms and circumstances. However, persistent cooperation ensured that all settled into place once the companies were together in Sri Lanka and collaborating, able to navigate challenges productively.
Many of the challenges faces in the arts, and as a charity, are global. Lack of funding, studio space, etc. Sharing these created a true sense of camaraderie, and mutual encouragement to commit and persist for the sake of your art.
Battery Dance returned to Sri Lanka, ten years after its last engagement, in order to collaborate with several of the nation’s leading cultural institutions: Chitrasena Dance Company, Dancers’ Guild, Naadro, Royal Nelung Arts Centre and producers of the annual NatFest dance festival, Natanda Dance Festival. Among its many goals, Battery endeavored to break down barriers that exist among the dance community, create opportunities for interaction with dance students and teachers as well as Sri Lankan choreographers and musicians, and share skills in the areas of arts management, lighting and theater production, and conflict resolution.
Strong local connections enabled Battery Dance to engage in the kind of creative interactions that would not have been possible otherwise. Months of prior communications between Artistic Directors of Battery Dance and Dancers’ Guild, Jonathan Hollander and Chandana Wickramasinghe formed a basis for collaboration in the creation of a new work, VILLAGE, that was set on a cast of 12 dancers, six from each company. Four rehearsals took place at Royal Nelung Arts Center and the piece quickly took shape, and was well received in its only performance in the Drums & Dance production at Bishop’s College Auditorium.
Through Chandana, Battery Dance was connected to the Sri Lankan percussion ensemble Naadro, and a second collaboration took place. Entitled ProPULSion, it featured five drummers on stage along with five dancers of Battery Dance and Indian guest artist Unnath H.S.
This trip revealed a notable increase in enthusiasm, among the communities we collaborated with, to explore our form of contemporary dance; the standing ovation following our finale of Drums & Dance was certainly not taken for granted. Sri Lanka was one of our most welcoming hosts and we hope that we will not be waiting another 10 years to return!
Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in 2006.
Master classes at the Dutch Burgher Union
Battery’s program in Sri Lanka represented a double treat. First, the company had the opportunity to return to this dance-loving country in which it had established collaborations with the two leading dance institutions - Neelung and Chitrasena - on two previous visits and as the U.S. host for visiting dancers and musicians from Sri Lanka in New York. Second, the company relished the chance to work again with Terry White, newly established PAO in Colombo, who had coordinated BDC’s Morocco program in 2004.
As expected, the visit of five days was deeply rewarding. PAS Colombo is staffed by very committed FSN’s and with Terry’s leadership, and oversight from the equally arts-friendly DCM Jim Moore, all signs point to a robust American cultural diplomacy program that will engender goodwill and inspire the Sri Lankan people over the next several years (if political conditions permit). BDC was thrilled with the turnout at its six master classes and made several observations:
In a notable demonstration of the generosity of the Sri Lankan dance community and their eagerness to participate in the workshops, Neelung Dance Academy arranged for the loan of a portable dance floor (Marley) to the Dutch Burgher Union – a beautiful old building with teak flooring (good for spring, but too slippery for ballet slippers and too splintered for bare feet). Due to the island’s tropical climate, appropriate dance spaces are scarce; Neelung’s contribution made all the difference.
Performances at Bishop's College Auditorium
Battery Dance invited Chitrasena and Neelung dance institutions to collaborate in its two performances at the Bishop’s College Auditorium by selecting a young dancer of special promise to perform on BDC’s programs. This concept of sharing the stage with local dancers, successfully implemented by BDC on previous tours (Vietnam, Australia, Morocco and elsewhere) worked out beautifully in Colombo. Neelung deputed a young male dancer and Chitrasena, a female, accompanied by a bevy of 4 male drummers. It seemed that the Sri Lankan audience saw its own dancers in a new way, when presented on the stage of an internationally acclaimed company from New York. The universality of dance and music was underlined as the audience responded with equal enthusiasm to classical Kandyan dance as well as contemporary western dance on the same program.
Radio interviews with Jonathan Hollander
The U.S. Embassy organized two radio interviews with Jonathan Hollander. The first one, on Lite 89.2, included airtime for some of Battery’s music, as well as a discussion about the company’s work in Sri Lanka. The second interview, on 101.7 – “TNL Rocks”— was notable because it was broadcast on the country’s most popular youth station, along with pop & rock music, giving Hollander the opportunity of reaching out to the island’s teen & young adult audience.